Six Month Update

The week leading up to my six month mark has been excruciatingly stressful. There are three Western teachers (myself included) at my school. Two of us were told that we would have to begin coming in an hour earlier every day to teach a new class (which currently only has one student enrolled). The other teacher is being forced to commute to another school nearly an hour away two days out of the week.

I don’t feel like I can divulge more details, but I’ll say that things are not good.

Everything that I have disliked about being here has culminated into complete and utter disdain.

I can hear the Korean teachers talk about us, though I can not understand what they’re saying. I don’t assume it’s anything positive.

Being in the classroom is so much fun and I genuinely love working with the kids. However, the work environment here is far from healthy. The hours are long, often with little time for breaks. The attitudes are passive aggressive, at best. Standing up for yourself puts you at risk for verbal abuse and belittlement from your superiors.

Furthermore, entire schedules are shifted around with no notice, leaving you with a headache and no time to plan lessons. I do not understand how anything gets done efficiently. When the head teacher gives out a new schedule, I sit with my co-workers and try to solve the cryptic paper before us. It almost always ends with a shrug and a guess, as we’re too nervous to ask anyone else.

Mostly, though, I just feel bad for the kids. The time that students spend taking tests is  incredible. They aren’t official or mandated by the government. I believe they are simply given to promote “diligence” and “education.”

I don’t remember if I’ve written about this before, but most Korean students have at least a twelve hour school day. For high school students, bump that number up a bit. This makes me so sad because kids don’t actually have any time to be kids. Their lives are consumed by studying and taking tests. The contrast between my elementary and middle school students is shocking. While my younger students are full of energy and want to play games, my older students mostly sit at their desks, heads down, completely drained of any life or emotion.

For now, I’ll shut up and do as I’m told. But the lack of autonomy and constant fear of scrutiny is essentially crushing my soul.

Conflicted

Today, I was required to teach a lesson on abortion to one of my classes of 6th graders. Not only was it uncomfortable trying to explain what abortion was to a group of children who don’t speak your native tongue, but it only got worse and worse the more we discussed it. I had to go over words like “pregnancy,” “termination,” “fetus,” “miscarriage,” and others. I did not want any part of it.

For one of the activities, the students had to make a web of reasons a woman might want to have an abortion. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that this was much too advanced for the group I was teaching. Most of them were confused and said things like “not enough money” or “woman can’t grow baby.”

Then, we moved on to talking about alternatives for abortion. The answer I was looking for was adoption. I had one kid raise his hand and say “mother kill herself.” I just started saying “no” over and over and over again. It was unbearable. However, my school is very strict about making sure all the work is completed in the textbooks. The Korean teachers check. The students’ parents also check and complain if they see that things have been skipped over.

I’m just concerned that these students are not learning what they should be. Many of them have pretty low literacy from what I’ve seen. They need more instruction on grammar, writing, and speaking. Not discussing concepts like abortion.

While most days are good, it’s days like this that get me upset. I know that private English academies are a huge business in Korea, but I feel like students aren’t truly learning English. Parents are shelling out cash for what seems to be something of a status symbol. “Oh yes, my child goes to a private English school!” Unfortunately, very few of my students can actually have a conversation with me or write a coherent essay.

It’s frustrating.

I Promise to Listen to My Teacher

Children who do not respect their elders are dealt with very seriously here. In fact, judging by what I just witnessed at work, I would go so far as to say corporal punishment in schools is alive and well in Korea.

I had been having a very difficult class earlier this afternoon. Two of my students absolutely refused to pay attention or do any work. The same two students have been giving me trouble for the past few weeks. Today, though, I was very tired of them talking while I was talking, poking other students, not speaking any English (in English class, mind you!), and audibly laughing every time I wrote something on the board or had my back turned.

That was the last straw. I told both of them to stand up and that we were going for a walk downstairs. Immediately, the pleas of “sorry, teacher! Study!” came pouring out of their mouths. Nope. The head Korean teacher was going to deal with them. We walked downstairs and I handed them off to her. She was not amused.

I stood in shock as I watched what happened next. The head teacher balled her hand into a fist and punched them both in the side of the head. Hard.

My heart sank.

I was expecting a 100 lines of “I promise to listen to my teacher.” Or something. Anything, really. Just not that.

The head teacher asked me to return to class, where I drilled the rest of my students on verbs, nouns, and adjectives. Through the window, I could see my other two students standing outside the door with their arms raised above their heads while the head teacher yelled at them.

I wanted to cry.

After class, I returned to my desk where I began planning for some tests on Friday. A few minutes later, the students who had been punished came in to apologize. I thanked them for their apology and told them to be good next class.

I think I am mildly traumatized. Actually, genuinely distressed.

I really don’t know what else to write.

Snips, and Snails, and Puppy Dog Tails

And back talking. And disobedience. And general rudeness.

This is what little boys are made of!

Yesterday was, needless to say, a rough one.

I have two troublemakers in two of my elementary classes: a Mikey* and a Vinny*. Now, I don’t know about you, but those are generally some pretty shit-head names in my book. Everyone knows a Vinny who’s gotten thrown out of the bar. And I can just hear Mikey’s mother screaming his name, loud and shrill, out the window as he races on his bike down the street after leaving a frog in the bathtub.

Mikey and Vinny in South Korea are no different.

Here, Mikey is the clown. He takes my pens. He wants to play games. And shoot rubber bands. And point lasers at his classmates. Nothing horrible, just mildly annoying and expected from an eight year old boy.

Vinny is willfully disobedient. In class, he refuses to participate. When giving directions, there are a lot of “why’s” followed by “because I said so’s.” He will talk to anyone in class, especially when someone else is reading aloud. I usually end up shouting his name and asking if he’s listening. It works for approximately .06 seconds. However, on Monday I promised the class we would play Bingo if they did all their work on Wednesday. After slowly getting through our fill-in-the-blanks and successfully explaining subjects and verbs, the kids were excited to play. Especially knowing that they would be rewarded with a Minion sticker for getting BINGO! Vinny was good. He didn’t fight with me. He listened. It was magical. When he got a sticker, he even said “thank you, teacher” and looked genuinely happy. Progress.

In one of my other classes, we read about Chiune Sugihara, the Japanese diplomat who helped Jews escape Lithuania during World War II. After we finished the story, I asked my students if they had any questions. “What is Jewish,” they asked. I couldn’t believe it. I literally had to explain Judaism to these kids because it was a foreign concept. To make it worse, the next question was “What is Holocaust?” This one really stunned me. They knew nothing of Hitler, or concentration camps, or genocide, or anything. I stood at the board, speechless, for a while. First I thought, “How is this possible?” Then, I gave them a condensed history lesson because I wasn’t sure what else to do. They looked at me like I was trying to explain astrophysics. It was a very difficult lesson.

Finally, I had another class of four middle schoolers. When I walked into class, everyone was attentive except one kid who always has his head on the desk. I honestly don’t even know his name yet. “Are you tired,” I asked. “Yes,” he replied without picking his head up. “Well, how is everyone doing today,” I asked the rest of the class. The same student said “bad.” I asked him why. “Because you’re here,” he said.

Ouch.

I told him to get up and open his book. Everyone else began reading out loud. When it came time to answer questions, the same student said “teacher, game.” I told him no. He sighed. He rolled his eyes. I told him to stand. Reluctantly, he did. I told him to push in his chair. He listened. Then, I told him to stand in the center of the room and read the passage to the rest of the class. Such struggle. When he finished, I said if he didn’t want to sit in class, he could sit in the director’s office downstairs and he could deal with him.

Do no harm, but take no shit. That was my motto of the day.

Has anyone else had some difficult personalities? How have you dealt with them?

*names of students changed for privacy